Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Babies, Blessings, and Bad Teaching

(NOTE: there are pictures at the end. I promise.)

Happy Tuesday!
I intended to write this post, like the others, right on the tail end of the week. It was full, though, stem to stern, and so I find myself tappling away of a morning. This week - due to labor day, class, and the birth center - I'll sub only two days. But this past week was a full, three-day teaching adventure.

Monday I took off so that I could have a lovely meeting with a local midwife. As a CNM, she could more succinctly address the history of their role in this community, and the progress that's been made. We drank delicious ginger tea, ate ginger cookies, and I branched into new avenues (doula program at St. Vincent's?)

Tuesday, however, was the opposite of 'taking off.' I subbed in a bilingual 4th grade classroom; it was by far the position that had worried me the most. I had trouble falling asleep in that at each last-second-before-REM another word in Spanish that I didn't know popped into my head.
At first, my fears were all founded. I found my way eventually to my hot and remote portable and was then confronted with a pile of 'notes' that consisted of nothing more than an agenda for the day, attendance roster, and sheafs upon sheafs of worksheets (I think the poor kiddos did 6 throughout the day). I was madly trying to print a "Valor Posicional" handout from the internet when the morning announcements came on and I froze.
Those of you who teach elementary school will know why. I myself had two housemates who were elementary teachers last year.
Namely: The morning announcements came on and I had no students. Moreover, I knew from experience that I was supposed to go and get them. . .  but I had no idea where.
Fortunately, the prodigious youngsters who had raced ahead of the pack brought me back to their line, I introduced myself, and we were off on what was to be a fun day.
**HS teachers who are subbing**: Never fear taking an elementary school class. They're on their best behavior, want you to like them, and are lavish with their compliments. In one day, I was told:
"You're cool."
"You should always be our teacher."
"You're pretty."
"That was the best cartwheel I've ever seen." (Context: I was picking them up from recess when a tiny grabbed my hand and escorted me to where they were having 'cheerleading practice.' Oh, dear hearts)
So though there was some decidedly squirrelly behavior - also probably due to the tedious worksheets - and some moments of genuine panic on my part, they were all resolved through the adequate Spanish on my part and the graces of many of the students. By far the highlight of the day was helping them with their 'writers workshop.' It was a far cry from an actual WW, but the worksheet asking them rudimentary questions was a least a small way to learn little snapshots into their lives.

Wednesday I was biking off to a nearby mid school as a SPED EA. This was another fun day, largely spent escorting a few perky girls to their English, chorus, and PE classes. The highlight, however, was helping out Arturo (name has been changed). He's a 7th grader with Cerebral Palsy, and exhibits all of the tenacity and good humor one would expect. He ranked as a little behind his grade level, but I wonder if this is a learning disability as much as the scourge of low expectations, which plagues SPED students far more than any other. I found him witty and a whippersnapper. Fortunately he was my wingman, because I found myself in one of the worst classes I have ever witnessed.
As I wrote to my mother that evening, "She just put the kids' curiosity and creativity into a mortar and pestle and ground it like she was doing perverse alchemy."  Another friend, when I described the classroom, marveled sadly that she was "killing the joy of learning."
They were both true. I actively witnessed this teacher quash curiosity, undermine adolescents' confidence, exhibit zero creativity in a lesson, and shoot down a student making an excellent text-to-self connection. It was infuriating and very sad. I left mourning for the students and mourning for the teacher.
I think her failure was trifold: that in management, that in content, and that in student rapport. I feel that if you have an inkling of two you can be a decent teacher. But her management was yelling at students to 'pay attention' and 'get it right' and 'stop that racket'; the content was two workbook pages of underlining nouns and answering stock questions from a third grade level paragraph about bats; the student rapport was nonexistent. When a student - and an angry, loner-ish type at that - reached out with a cool comment that she had once cared for two bats, the teacher had the opportunity to acknowledge the connection, commend her compassion, question what kind of bats they had been and whether they ate insects or fruit. No.
"You! Stop talking. Go to the corner and do your work." I kid you not.
Arturo and I counteracted this negativity by chatting about bats, what makes a mammal, and what my supper plans were for the evening. To be fair, at least the teacher didn't ignore Arturo like I have seen happen so many times before. She was the same unpleasant pedagogue for him as all the rest, which was a blessing. I don't think we could've mustered any saccharine pity from her.
Also the same, I aim to sub for her sometime in the future.

Thursday, my final sub day of the week, was back to bilingual - this time 6th grade social studies. As I learned first hour, the teacher had left the school for a different position. She had 'planned' at least until the end of the week - the students were assigned to copy vocabulary terms from the glossary for 50 minutes.
This is the first time I said "No." I didn't throw the plans out the window - that would've been irresponsible, no matter how tedious the assignment - but I refused to leave it at that. They were taking down vocabulary regarding different modes of government. So, this is how the class went instead:
- I introduced myself in Spanish and English.
- I did a mini-lecture on Syria (in Spanish), starting with its geography and Arab Spring. Most of the students didn't know it was a country, and none had heard about the weapons violation or our precarious position of war.
- They had a mini-discussion with their neighbors: using their information, should we attack Syria? Why or why not?
- We took a vote. (Every class was sharply, often vociferously, divided. I explained that this is how things were shaking down in our government too.)
- THEN they took down vocabulary terms. I gave them two minutes a term, we did CFUs for each, and that way we rocketed through the list.
A highlight was certainly when a student came up shyly said how 'awesome' it was when I demonstrated speaking with a Spanish accent (Thiudá Estao for Ciudad Estado) because she speaks with a Colombian accent. "Oh," I replied, "QuĂ© suave! Eres de Colombia?" 
"Nah," she said. "I just like the way it sounds."

So there.

This rip-roarin' week of teaching (not to mention taking classes) kept up the pace with a fun first Psych class AND visits from three friends. Much good food and company (and dancing!) was had by all. 
Also, my friend and I created this mural with my flower pictures!

Annnnnnd, we found the perfect mounting shelf for Gerburg Garman's lovely Ondine. Of course the shelf was curbside, ready to be picked up as trash the next morning.

Also wonderful was the grand opening of the Breath of My Heart Birthplace. It was a successful event, full of excellent conversation, delicious frito pie, and that BEAUTIFUL new birth room. Check it out!

The birth room! (I removed the paint tape and scrubbed that door frame!)What you can't see is the gorgeous big tub. [These photos courtesy of www.breathofmyheart.org

Fellow doula and aspiring midwife! We were talking, I think, about her path to midwifery?

We all ate, drank, and were merry, and at the celebration's close we had a lovely ceremony in the new room. A woman gave a blessing for the birth center and for us all. She invoked the Creator, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and we fanned cedar smoke to the four directions.

What a prosperous beginning for a beautiful place.
Over and out ~

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